South Korea and the United States will hold high-level talks this week in Seoul to discuss when and under what conditions to transfer wartime control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, Defense Ministry officials here said Sunday.
The assistant secretary-level meeting between the allies “will begin on Monday for a two-day run in Seoul for in-depth discussions to set the timing of and conditions for the South’s regaining of the wartime operational control,” a ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
South Korea will be represented by Ryu Je-seung, chief of the ministry’s Office of Planning and Coordination, and the U.S. by David Helvey, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, the official said, noting that such a meeting will take place on a monthly basis until October either in Seoul or Washington.
The talks came after Seoul’s defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, and his U.S. counterpart, Chuck Hagel, agreed last month to fix the schedule for the transfer by October, when the two sides are scheduled to hold their annual Security Consultative Meeting in Washington.
South Korea handed over control of its forces to the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War to defend against invading troops from North Korea. Peacetime control of its forces was returned in 1994, and South Korea is scheduled to get back the wartime control in December 2015.
But last year, Seoul asked for a delay after the communist North conducted its third nuclear test, and South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in April to reconsider the timing of the OPCON transfer amid Pyongyang’s threat to carry out yet another nuclear test.
Experts and government sources say chances are high for the two sides to push back the timing for about five to seven years, possibly to early 2020.
South and North Korea are still technically at war after the Korean War ended in a truce without a peace treaty. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help defend the Asian ally from threats from the communist nation.